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The Gift

A good thriller should creep up on you.  It doesn’t have to be filled with violence but a level of suspense refusing to surrender.  Those from famed director Alfred Hitchcock such as ‘Psycho’ and ‘North by Northwest’ still linger in the memory.  ‘The Gift’ deftly borrows from Hitchcock’s malevolent handbook.  Full of tension and sinister occurrences, ‘The Gift’ has a low-key feel hiding a dark, terrifying heart.

 

Married couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are starting a new life.  Moving into a new house and job, they look forward to the future.  Dark clouds gather when Simon unexpectedly meets old school acquaintance Gordon (Joel Edgerton) who carries secrets threatening to unravel their lives.  As Gordon slowly integrates himself into their existence, the past’s deadly spectre looms large like a voice from the grave.

 

An unsettling and atmospheric piece, ‘The Gift’ is an excellent thriller.  Delivering on its promise of an intense physiological mystery, all credit goes to writer, director and star Edgerton.  Careful to never over-reach the clichés his creepy character could have shown, his under-stated performance intrigues.  Crafting a compelling narrative and authentic scares from his taut screenplay, Edgerton ensures audiences are kept guessing.  Predictability isn’t something ‘The Gift’ has, discarding the conventions of the genre in a twist-driven tale leading to a shocking finale.

 

It isn’t all Edgerton’s show as Bateman and Hall deliver very strong performances.  You are never quite sure where their characters will end up, with the actors embracing the script’s complexities.  Their paranoia at Gordon’s activities is understandable although the slowly emerging secrets make for delicious viewing.  Just when the story goes one way it ends up elsewhere, with just one element changing things.  This marks ‘The Gift’ as one of the smarter and adventurous films made recently.

 

Anyone looking for a well-made thriller can look no further than ‘The Gift’.  Captivating from its first frame, it marks Edgerton’s directorial debut a success with his future endeavours eagerly awaited.

 

Rating out of 10:  9

 

Southpaw

Boxing movies have been a mainstay for years.  ‘Rocky’, ‘Raging Bull’ and others have examined the dynamics of those brave enough to tussle in the ring.  What they have in common is not the focus on the sport but the people.  Using boxing as a cipher to explore all facets of humanity – from the players to the spectators – every emotion is covered.  ‘Southpaw’ delves into these in a reasonably fresh way.  It’s difficult conjuring something original in the boxing genre but the performers and direction highlight its enduring popularity.

 

A world light Heavyweight champion, Billy (Jake Gyllenhaal) is at the top of his game.  Watched by his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and daughter, he thinks life is good.  Events take a sad turn when Maureen dies during a fight.  Falling into a spiral of despair, Billy’s life crumbles.  After his daughter is given to welfare, Billy resolves to turn things around.  With the help of trainer Tick (Forest Whitaker), Billy aims to reclaim his life and climb his way back up the career ladder.

 

An intense exploration of self-destruction and redemption, ‘Southpaw’ is gripping viewing.  Whilst the fight sequences are of the usual nail-biting standard, it’s the psychological elements gaining interest.  It only takes one fatal mis-step to wreck Billy’s world leading to an emotional cataclysm. How he deals with fate’s dark hand provides him another chance of re-building his life.  His relationships with others aid in his re-discovery of who he is and his former passion for boxing.

 

Directed with intensity by Antoine Fuqua, ‘Southpaw’ succeeds in having a gritty, urban feel.  Although Fuqua occasionally delves into the clichés the genre brings, he is able to put his own unique stamp on the story.  He is helped by Gyllenhaal’s strong performance, again confirming his ability to successfully inhabit characters.  Whitaker makes the most of what could have been a clichéd ‘mentor role’, giving it depth.  The boxing scenes are expertly handled, with the precise skill in developing each move seen.

 

‘Southpaw’ may not be anything particularly new, but it delivers its own impact.  There is no doubt boxing movies will continue to be seen with the ‘against all odds’ motif always finding favour with audiences in and out of the ring.

 

Rating out of 10:  7